Palestinian Maftoul To Warm Your Winter Days
By Blanche Shaheen/Arab America Contributing Writer
My favorite indoor respite from the iced-over lawns, crisp air, and dark leafless trees of winter, is a warm bowl of chicken soup. I love closing my kitchen doors to sequester the spicy aroma and comforting simmer of a particularly hearty soup called Maftoul.
Maftoul is the Middle Eastern equivalent to chicken noodle soup. From the silky chicken and peppery allspice to the sweet onions and garlic infused tomato, a bowl of this goodness makes winter much more bearable.
Instead of pasta, Arabs tend to use couscous or other grains like bulgur or barley in their soups. Maftoul is similar to couscous but made with a combination of whole wheat and even bulgur, which yields a pleasantly nutty flavor. Maftoul is the Arabic word for “couscous,” but this couscous, in particular, is larger grained than the average boxed kind you ’ll find in most grocery stores. While Moroccans use the smaller couscous, this recipe calls for the larger grain most popular in Palestine.
Today there are women’s fair trade cooperatives in Palestine that are keeping alive the traditional hand-rolled method of maftoul. One such cooperative, called Anin, is based in Jenin Palestine where the women make everything with their own hands. First, they clean and boil the wheat. Then they grind the wheat, add flour to it, and roll it with their hands until it’s ready to be steamed again. Then they put the rolled wheat out in the sun to dry.
Since this is a labor-intensive product, your best bet is to buy maftoul online from these cooperatives directly, which will not only give your dish an authentic flavor, but also help at-risk communities like Anin to survive. If there is no maftoul available where you live, you can also substitute the Italian acini de pepe, a pasta that looks like tiny beads.
Allspice provides the key flavor in this soup, which has notes of cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and cloves. This spice has been used in home remedies for centuries since it is rich in vitamins and minerals and fights inflammation. In Palestinian cuisine, allspice is often used as the sole spice that flavors many popular main dishes. The tomato in this soup adds a different kick, and you can add chopped vegetables like zucchini and butternut squash to the broth for more variety.
For the easy tutorial on how to make this soup, click on the video below:
My mother would make me this soup whenever I had a cold, and I would instantly feel better after a bowl (or two)– hope this recipe does the same for you.
- 2 pounds dark-meat chicken (use all drumsticks or combination of drumsticks and thighs, you can also use lamb shoulder chops if you prefer)
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 fresh tomatoes, pureed
- 1 can tomato sauce
- 1 tablespoon whole allspice berries
- 1 large minced onion
- 5 cloves of garlic, each sliced in half
- 1 cup canned garbanzo beans (optional)
- 1/2 cinnamon stick
- 1 teaspoon cumin
- 2 tbsp butter
- 2 cups maftoul
Place the chicken in large pot and add approximately 2 teaspoons of salt, onions, cinnamon stick, allspice berries, cumin, halved garlic cloves, and bay leaves. Pour in water so that there is at least 5 inches of water above chicken. Place the pot on stovetop over high heat until boiling.
Remove any scum that rises to the top with a sieve. After water reaches its boiling point, reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes.
Add tomato sauce and tomato puree and let boil for an additional 20 minutes. Let the soup cool slightly. Using tongs, scoop out chicken pieces and set aside in a bowl.
Using a large sieve, pour the tomato broth into another stainless steel bowl to strain out bay leaves, allspice, cinnamon, and onion. Return the broth to the pot and reduce heat to simmer. Add the garbanzo beans and any additional vegetables you wish, and simmer for an additional 20 minutes.
Return the chicken to soup. In another pot, melt butter and 2 cups maftoul and brown until butter is melted.
Carefully remove 4 cups of the tomato chicken broth from main pot and add to maftoul. After mixture boils, cover and simmer on low heat for approximately 20 minutes. (Cooking time and liquid required may vary depending on the type of maftoul – make sure to follow package directions for doneness and add more liquid if needed.)
To serve, scoop maftoul into a bowl and use a soup ladle to pour broth, chickpeas, and meats over the maftoul.
Blanche Shaheen is a journalist, food writer, and host of the cooking show called Feast in the Middle East. She specializes in Arab cuisine of the Levant and beyond You can check out her cooking video tutorials and cultural commentary on growing up Arab American at https://www.youtube.com/
To order Fair Trade Palestinian Maftoul, go to: http://palestineonlinestore.com/shop/organic-maftoul-couscous/